Art Ain’t Easy

Some members of the Student Media Art Collective (SMAC) we assembled had gotten an idea to create a mural on the construction wall by the college library. At one of the SMAC meetings, they had mentioned they were having a difficult time getting past all the administrative and bureaucratic hurdles. There was a plan to paint the mural at the end of March during the school Spring Break. When it didn’t emerge, I figured the hurdles got the best of the students.

However, I liked the idea and given that construction next to my building would cause a larger construction wall to encroach upon the courtyard in front of the theatre eliminating 1/3 of it for 18 months, I saw a pressing need to make the wall attractive. I broached the subject with the appropriate powers that be last week to lay the groundwork and smooth the road. I also spoke with a couple of the professors who were advocating for the library mural project to get their buy in. Everyone was pretty positive about the idea and the professors figured my involvement would help eliminate some of the barriers the students had faced this go round.

Happily, the students got the green light to do the library mural after all and worked throughout the past weekend to create it. The mural is fairly simple as you can see in the images below. However, it provides proof that the students can pull the project off within the parameters set by the various concerned parties. As much influence as I may or may not have, had they not done a good job it would have been that much more difficult to get a mural on the construction wall in front of my theatre.


I stood with to two of the visual arts professors who had been supportive of the work this morning and they were extremely pleased by so many aspects of the project. Just as I might be able to pick out various nuances in a performance, they were making observations about the execution of the piece that were not significant to me at all. (Like the way the black and white merged into each other at the bottom of the “H”.)

Amid all the gushing observations, they expressed pride in the students for pushing the project and their vision to competion despite all the obstacles. One of the group leaders wanted to give up a number of times. One professor pointed out that Christo had faced similar problems getting permission for his public art projects. Much of the professors’ pleasure probably derived from the fact that the impetus to execute the mural was generated entirely by the students rather than a class assignment. They were very happy to see students taking the initiative.

For me the mural represented an argument against those who claim there is little value for art in education. That mural required research, mathematical knowledge to execute in larger scale, politicking and advocacy, understanding the materials and media, artistic choices and team work. There was a lot of problem solving involved, which of course we all know is highly valued by employers these days.

In the middle of the project, one of the students commented that they didn’t realize how much work would be involved. The professor working with them chuckled and replied that he purposely never asked them if they realized how much work would be involved because he didn’t want to dissuade them.

This blog entry comes partially out of an email I sent out to the campus directing their attention to the decision making and problem solving required to bring the mural to fruition.  This was partially to  underscore the role of arts in the education process. I was also addressing the assumption that it was executed almost on the spur of the moment without much planning and preparation. It became apparent after speaking with a few of the people involved that concerns about a reckless execution was the basis for some of the impediments to authorization the students experienced.

Graduation is in a couple weeks and it is usually held in the library courtyard with the stage directly in front of where this wall is. This means the audience is facing the mural the whole time. I hope no one makes the decision to hide or cover it up. I think the sentiment expressed is perfect for a commencement.


About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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